From scratching records to frying falafel, this is the story of how Fira’s Falafel and Frites came to be in Ocean Beach, Fire Island.
Owner Ira Zahler has DJ’ed at the restaurant Albatross every summer in Ocean Beach for the last 20 years.
He also ran his own catering company in NYC for 30 years, but the ongoing pandemic put his business on hold.
With no events taking place this past year, he, his wife Caroline Zahler, and their seven-year-old daughter, spent the winter in Ocean Beach, during which he got to thinking of what to do next.
“I just thought about what can I do here that’s totally different,” Zahler said. “All the food here replicates itself in a certain way because it’s classic, Long Island and Fire Island, so what could I do that would be good for everybody?” “Everybody” also included the partiers.
The first idea that came to mind: french fries.
Not any old french fries, but the Belgian kind, which are “pomme frites” paired with a variety of homemade dipping sauces.
The “Belgian method” involves cutting the russet potatoes, soaking them, frying them once, letting them cool, and then frying them again.
It’s a “labor-intensive” process, Zahler said, but the end result makes it all worth it.
“We’ve already gone through 100 pounds of potatoes on our first day,” the owner said during Fira’s grand opening on May 21.
Story continues after photo.
Zahler’s DJ name is “FIRA,” a combination of “Fire Island” and his first name.
He first thought of naming the place “Fira’s Frites” but said it was missing another “F” food item.
“And then it came to me, it wasn’t one of my dreams that I wanted to open up, but I said that sounds good, Fira’s falafel and frites,” he laughed.
Fira’s Falafel and Frites offers fresh, homemade Mediterranean street food inspired by the Zahlers’ travels.
Everything on the menu is completely vegetarian, with vegan options, and features items that include the classic pita sandwich, falafel-hummus bowl, and a mezze sampler platter with baba ghanoush, hummus, quinoa, Israeli salad and pickled vegetables served with pita bread and tahini sauce.
The frites are hand-cut, high-grade Idaho potatoes served with ketchup or a choice of special sauce: roasted garlic mayo, truffle aioli, honey mustard or spicy harissa ketchup.
Other spud options include poutine fries and a big baked potato knish.
There’s also an in-shop market showcase with freshly prepared mezze, pre-packaged and ready for those who need a quick grab-and-go.
Everything is packed to takeout. Fira’s is like a stationary food truck, though there are a few tables inside and outside for dining.
Not only does Zahler want to reach the vegetarian population, but hopes to inspire meat-eaters to give it a try.
The most important person he’s doing this for is his daughter Rebecca, he says, who became a “self-declared” vegetarian at just three years old after seeing turkeys at a petting farm.
“She saw a turkey on Thanksgiving and that was the end of it,” Zahler said. “We’re coming here as people who eat burgers, but what we want to do is open up the idea of eating plant-based food and locally grown produce — I’m trying to reach everybody with delicious food, to give meat a break, and be environmentally friendly.”
Caroline said the community has been incredibly supportive and she is thrilled to see her husband’s new business take off.
“I’m happy he found something that he can do for the summer that he is looking forward to,” she said. “I keep saying, when life gives you lemons, make hummus.”
Fira’s Falafel and Frites is located at 311 Bay Walk, sharing a space with the Bay Walk Café in Ocean Beach. It will be open this summer Sunday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1 a.m.
Top: Falafel, all photos courtesy of Fira’s Falafel and Frites Facebook page and website.